Of all the Saturday morning cartoons to grace the airwaves, X-Men: The Animated Series is one of the most beloved. Running between 1992 and 1997 for a total of 76 episodes, the Fox Kids program followed the iconic mutants first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s.
At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the show celebrated its 25th birthday with a special panel hosted by series showrunner/developer Eric Lewald, series producer/director/artist Larry Houston, and series writers Julia Lewald and Len Uhley.
To kick things off, the iconic opening credits sequence was played with much cheering and applause from the audience. According to Eric Lewald, the entire sequence was made over the course of a single weekend. Admit it, you're probably humming the theme song right now, aren't you?
Indulge your nostalgia gland with the video below:
Armed with a snazzy PowerPoint, the panelists went through the history of the show, beginning with Fox Kids executives Margaret Loesch and Sidney Iwanter. Without these two individuals, the show never would have happened, because other network folks felt that the material was too dated and wouldn't make enough money in terms of merchandising.
“The people in Hollywood never respected the books," Lewald said, explaining that the entertainment industry preferred dumbed-down stories and goofy humor. Instead, they decided to stay true to the source material and tell adult stories with adult problems on display.
“We were all writing this for ourselves," Lewald said. "We want[ed] to entertain each other, so the joy comes through.”
That joy was obviously felt by kids everywhere, as Julia Lewald revealed that back in the days of "snail mail," they'd receive stacks of double-sided fan letters that would go up to the ceiling and fill up a hallway.
As a purist, Houston is of the mind that adapting a classic like the X-Men into another medium (in this case, a cartoon) came with a lot of responsibility. “You change things only if you have to, not because you can," he stated.
Hiring legendary comic book writer Len Wein (co-creator of Swamp Thing) also proved to be a masterstroke, since he had great ideas regarding characters such as Colossus and Nightcrawler.
When it came to deciding which mutants would be featured, having an assorted group with distinctly different powers was important for the writing staff. “We didn’t have an agenda [of who would be on the show]," said Lewald. "We just wanted a mixture so nobody overlap[ped]. That was our ambition... it makes the writing easier."
“It was diversity before it became buzzword," added Uhley.
Characters like Gambit were included because they were new to Marvel Comics at the time. Remy LeBeau had been introduced for the first time ever in 1990 by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont, just two years before X-Men: The Animated Series hit TV. One could probably trace the character's immense popularity in 2018 all the way back to the cartoon, which brought him into millions of homes every week.
Others, like Beast, got a bigger role simply because they were so fun to write. In the first few episodes, he was in jail because the staff didn't really consider him a "main character." However, the more they realized they loved Hank McCoy, Eric Lewald said, the more screen time they gave him.
Technically speaking, the show will actually turn 26 years old this October on the anniversary of its first-ever episode, "Night of the Sentinels (Part 1)."
To help ring in the momentous mutant milestone, a book called Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series was written, the first copy of which was given to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Why? Because a good chunk of the show's production was based in Canada, with the entire cast being Canadian.
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